Frank "The Reverend" Wright was one of the most powerful saxophonists to pick up on Albert Ayler's freedom and ferocious playing (he was a friend of Ayler's in their Cleveland, OH days), and his "energy music" approach to tenor saxophone can be traced down to Charles Gayle, Sabir Mateen, and other hard-blowing tenormen on the current scene. Wright followed Ayler to New York City, arriving in 1964 and fitting into the scene right away. The following year, ESP-Disk' owner Bernard Stollman signed him on the spot after hearing him sit in with Coltrane, and he made two classic albums for ESP.
Soon after, he moved to France, which was more artistically receptive to free jazz than the U.S. was. When the ESP label was revived a few years ago, one of its first non-reissue releases was a concert recording of Wright's quartet at the 1974 Moers festival.
And now here's another 1974 Wright quartet gig, a rarity in that it took place in the United States. It becomes his only released U.S. recording between his second ESP-Disk' album in 1967 and a 1978 cameo on a Hannibal album. It is, as one would expect given the time and the participants, quite the freewheeling affair. The fiery power of this quartet is astounding.
There is, of course, Wright's unstinting imagination and pungent sound. It's not just unbridled power, it's also full of subtleties thanks to his vast arsenal of timbres, encompassing tones you've likely never before heard come from any horn. Just as big an attraction here is the whirlwind harmolodic style of James "Blood" Ulmer (this was only the second time on record to this point that Wright worked with a guitarist). The polyrhythmic energy of drummer Rashied Ali, who brought this tape to ESP-Disk' shortly before his death in 2009, is a strong valedictory statement. (Wright's usual drummer was Rashied's brother Muhammad, a fine player but not at the exalted level of Rashied).
Fortunately, this is not some dimly recorded document with a patience-trying signal-to-noise ratio. It was recorded at Rashied's club, Ali's Alley, and has the welcome sonic clarity we've come to appreciate from that venue. Even bassist Benny Wilson comes through clearly -- though it must be said that the energy flags during his extended solos, the only less-than-stellar aspect of this otherwise excellent album. One more point in its favor: this concert set contains a generous 74 minutes of music. Blues for Albert Ayler is proof that there are still musical treasures to be unearthed. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer. His song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach can be heard here.